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  • Chris O'Rourke

Waiting for the Offo

Waiting for the Offo. Image uncredited.


Some reviews are hard to write. This being one of them. Mahon McCann seems like a genuinely nice person. A writer who believes his debut play Waiting for the Offo has something funny, worthwhile and touching to offer. Something worth an audience giving up their time and money to go see. Alas, believing does not make it so despite passion and best intentions. Similarly, Conan McIvor, showing a flair for light and tech, believes himself a capable theatre director. Again with the blind believing thing. Proving two wrongs don’t make a right, Mahon’s Beckett inspired play sees too much left textually and performatively undeveloped. Including story or framework, a strong comedic through line, proper direction, and a cast being properly served. Highlighting a larger problem: young companies staging works that aren’t ready to be staged.

What's offered is basic student fare. Liam Bixby's party animal about town, Niall, is a self proclaimed artist. Artist pronounced arsehole, that is. And to make sure you get the point Bixby begins by flashing a taut, tonged arse like an exhibitionist at a toga convention. Meanwhile, long time friend and session partner, Cillian Lenaghan’s Terry, is getting ready to go home. Dressed like an understudy for Waiting For Godot (a Halloween ruse facilitating realism for costumes), Terry is a Mammy’s boy just back from an Erasmus trip. As they wait for the off licence to open, a Conor McGregor styled drug dealer (Terry O’Neill), and a first love making an astonishing entrance (Hazel Clifford), contribute to insipid conversations on Elton John, the housing crisis, Irishness and other current tropes when not simulating the dullest session ever. A handbrake turn two thirds of the way through sees a mad dash towards a dramatic exit as friendship strains beneath tit for tat ‘it’s your fault’ accusations. As for the session that was, is, and might never be; portrayals of debauchery prove so normative they wouldn’t offend a conservative nun.

Waiting for the Offo. Image uncredited.

In fairness to McCann, he’s not alone in producing too early (and he is a fantastic producer - the run sold out by opening night). Also, staging comedy is hard. Comedy mixed with absurdism and a ham-fisted attempt at drama even harder. Timing, set up, economy, rhythm are all skills crucial to master. Mastery being little in evidence here. The result being occasional peals of laughter, primarily from the segregated back row, and some sporadic chuckles from the auditorium. Otherwise the silence proves deafening. If the programme blurb talks the talk, as many do, the production never walks the walk. Talk sounding like being flogged a three legged horse for the Grand National. Arguments that it’ll run faster without the weight of the extra leg might sound reasonable, like the programme’s talk of Beckett, mental health and Waiting for the Offo being a comedy drama. Yet the truth is this horse can’t run. Not helped by its director not being up to the task of getting it over its theatrical hurdles.

On the tech side, McIvor shows flair when engaging with projections, light design (Jonathan Daley) and sound (Brian Lincoln), which prove to be the best things about this production, suggesting McIvor might thrive in another medium. Compositionally, in terms of energy and pace, and especially working with actors, Waiting for the Offo wastes its talent who needed to be challenged, or supported more. Indeed, if you’re unfamiliar with the sterling work of its usually impressive cast, you could be forgiven for thinking they were all first year drama students who should ask for their fees back. Hamming it up in terms of trudging pace, amateur gestures, lazy body language, monotonous rhythm; it’s all exaggerated for easy laughs. As a result, laughs rarely arrive, with performances looking embarrassingly unsure as to what they're doing.

Waiting for the Offo. Image uncredited.

Many first time writers, their inaugural tales steeped in biography, often rely on charm, wit, or honesty to conceal a multitude of technical sins. Risking reputational harm in what is a competitive market. Especially new writers who don’t come through the usual channels. Who need access to serious guidance and mentors. To rigourous dramaturgy. To real opportunities for testing their material and for critical feedback. Because immature work does theatre, and aspiring writers, few favours and only discourages audiences from coming again. We need rebels like McCann and McIvor. New voices making unconventional theatre in unconventional ways. Waiting for the Offo shows talent, passion and promise. But the hard fact is, it isn’t ready yet.

Waiting for the Offo by Mahon McCann, directed by Conan McIvor, presented by Bosch and The New Theatre, runs at The New Theatre until July 8.

For more information visit The New Theatre


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